Artist Sandi Cirillo’s felt portraits evoke soft warm colors on the coldest days this winter

Thu, 01/04/2018 - 1:00pm

SEARSPORT—Mixed Media artist Sandi Cirillo has two sea-themed artworks hanging in her kitchen that are almost 3-D, it is compelling to want to touch them. Both are felted using wool, soap/water and agitation to get the wool fibers to fuse together.

"Colorful Corals" is an underwater seascape with vibrant blues and purples. The coral is dyed sheep’s wool left in its natural state, so that the curly fibers seem to spring from the canvas. Cirillo simulates additional movement, positioning a piece of wool “coral” that bleeds onto the matting of the framed portrait. In the second piece, a stormy lighthouse scene, “The Coast of Maine,” she uses white wool fibers to evoke movement in the frothy waves of the ocean.

“Working with felt is similar to painting when you’re adding or subtracting to a certain piece,” she said. “A lot of people call it ‘painting with felt.’”

Cirillo dyes all of her own wool, which she gets from Halcyon Yarn in Bath.  “I’m a very tactile person,” she said. “Sometimes, when I’m in a fiber store, all I have to do is see a the raw materials and I can see what it needs to be. I have the entire picture in my head and then I usually have the title for it.”

Cirillo is retired from elementary art teacher, and now makes her living teaching seven to eight classes a year in fiber, mixed media and drawing in her Searsport home studio and through various universities and adult education classes. Hanging beneath a bookshelf of books on dyeing felt, drawing and other instructional guides, is a sign “Live the Life You Imagined.”

At 45-years-old, she went back to college, getting her bachelor’s and master’s degree as an artist. As an undergraduate, Cirillo discovered fiber arts as a course and she was hooked. She took more felt-making courses in felt making as a graduate. She then taught herself how to dye the wool with natural dyes as part of her degree. “In my work, I strive to achieve a delicate balance between spontaneous design and exact execution, thereby creating a constant challenge to produce something fluid within a static structure,” she said.

But she knew one thing: the life she imagined wasn’t going to be long-term in New York.

“When I was a teacher in upstate New York, I’d come to Maine on my school vacations for about 15 years,” she said. “By the time I came up the second year, I knew this is where I wanted to be. I really worked to make that happen and now I’m living the life I imagined being retired and feel very blessed.”

After looking extensively for the right house for her, she found a home in Searsport with an in-law apartment, that she converted into her entire basement studio and moved up permanently in 2011.  Open shelves hold a variety of materials that line the “kitchen” of the sunny studio with more boxes and bins of supplies neatly stacked in the bedroom.

Her framed pieces can be found at the Lupine Cottage in Belfast, Southwest Harbor Artisans Gift Shop and at Beyond the Sea Gift shop in Lincolnville, ME as well as at Franklin Street Gallery in Watkins Glen, New York and on her website,


Kay Stephens can be reached at